¡Olé! to you, fellow artist

For those of you who do most of your creating off-stage, you may not have experienced the ¡olé! moment.

That’s my new-favorite term for the magical thing that happens when you get in the zone and out of the way and the work just flows through you. The term comes to me via the astonishing Elizabeth Gilbert in her very moving (and funny, and smart as hell) TED talk, below. As Derek Sivers says in his own post pointing to it, Gilbert’s words speak to pretty much any writer or musician; I’ll go one better and say that if there is any pursuit you’ve spent a lot of time getting your body tuned up for, you’ll dig it:

The ¡olé! moment happens rarely onstage, but when it does, there’s a kind of thrum inside and outside of you, a strange inner/outer vibrational shift where you’re very aware of what’s happening and you also feel like it’s something happening to you, or possibly through you. It’s pretty sensational, and I’m pretty sure it only happens when a confluence of circumstances are in place:

  1. You, prepared
  2. You, letting go
  3. Some kind of Mysterious Hoodoo Shit happening elsewhere

It’s probably happened to me 30-odd times in my entire performing career, and that includes auditions and scenes in class as well as performances. I don’t know if that number is on the low, high or average side, but I do know that when It Happened, it was as much something acting me as me doing the acting. No matter how many times It Happens, though, I can tell you this: It can’t Happen enough; the feeling is so amazing, and the level at which you’re able to transmit that creative energy is so crazy-high, if you could bottle it, you’d be a bajillionaire, even in a down market.

Especially in a down market.

There are some things that I believe up one’s chances for the magic happening. As you might guess, most of the actionable stuff happens in areas #1 and #2. One of the reasons I hammer hammer hammer away at my actors in my monthly columns to Always Be Creating is that it really helps with both of those things: you become both better prepared, because constant application of effort to a certain practice makes you more skilled and confident, the 10,000 hours rule, and you are better able to let go because sheer volume of work means that any individual instance becomes proportionally less important, thereby enabling you to be way more relaxed than you might otherwise be.

It’s one reason I decided to post daily to the blog. Yes, a part of me is hoping that replicating the Monday-through-Friday nature of the old-time daily column will somehow trigger the Magical Woowoo Hoodoo into manifesting a modern-day Royko gig for the communicatrix, but another far, far more realistic part of me knows that there’s no way I can’t get better at this if I’m doing it more often.

As Gilbert says in her talk, there is huge relief in making the shift to thinking you have access to genius rather than that you have to be a genius. My job as access point is to stay in shape and show up daily.

The rest of it? Is up to the genius.

¡Olé! to that…



In case you have ever wondered what I sound like when speaking in public, I finally have a speaking page up which contains an embed of a decidedly non-TED talk. At least I know now what I’m tuning this old carcass up for.


  1. Funny, my BIL just sent me a link to Gilbert’s talk a couple of days ago. (Now I’m seeing it again, I’m wondering if there’s something I’m supposed to learn from it.) I’m an author, and I know how few and far between those “genius” moments are. I’ve been writing for over a decade, and I doubt I’ve had 30 of them. Whether they’re something otherworldly or just a foruitous aligning of synapses, I don’t know. But they’re truly wondrous, and yeah, I’d take that drug even if it had side effects of poverty, nausea, constipation, and toe-loss.

    The only thing I can do to encourage them is to “be there” with a pen in hand and, as you said, to let go. The more I strain for words, the more blocked I become. And of course I spend more time staring into space (or at a blinking cursor) than actually writing. Like Gilbert suggests, though, I try not to blame myself, and trust that the process is happening in here (or out there) somewhere, even if I can’t see it. The greatest lessons are to be humble, because our genius is not really our own, and be grateful for whatever glimpses it allows us to see.

  2. Wow! If I only knew exactly where it is that I am supposed to be showing up each day…really. I am a consumer, feeling the need to give back, doing my music thing with kids, but wanting to give more. Give more what? I am jumping on the Tom Waits, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ancient Greek and Roman band wagon and I am going to have a sit down with that house elf genius. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing.

  3. I watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk and I found her presence onstage truly inspiring. I read “Eat, Pray, Love” but I’d never heard her speak before. I like the idea of genius/mojo/whathaveyou being an outside force that “joins” you when you show up. I see it as being a conduit, which takes a bit of *crushing* pressure off of my shoulders. And funny enough, creating a little distance from the work helps me to be more present.
    I also watched your presentation, Colleen. And I say ¡Olé! to you!

  4. I have to admit, when I went to your speaking page and hit the play button, I thought…”son of a bitch, this puppy is going to be long”, It was great! Wonderful tips and you were fun, not boring like many speakers I’ve seen.

    A while back we had a speaker that gave us handouts, the same handouts that she read off the projector…word for word! That was a tough one to sit through. This particular presentation was about Diversity & Communication, I would much rather have listened to the C-trix!

  5. Yes so many people have found her talk resonates with them -in addition to the message it is the way she rings so true in saying it – an original. And, if you’d like to discuss paid speaking (how meeting planners choose, etc.) let’s find a time to chat

  6. Thank you for sharing! I have a group of women coming over on Sunday to read a first draft of the fourth chapter of my second book (which I have yet to write due to just returning from the Ukraine where my husband and I spoke 12 times!) Last night, I woke up on and off in the night, wondering (probably rightfully so) how in the world this would come to be. But then, as I laid it down and trusted that it would be given, inspiration also came.

    Elizabeth Gilbert so beautifully explains the anguish of success, even for those of us who have tasted much smaller levels of it. (My first book has been a moderate success–10,000 copies, being translated into three other languages.) After experiencing “Ole” moments (in my mind full of God’s glory), I am still tempted to go to a dark place, “I can’t do this anymore. Too much pressure for a sensitive soul like me. Too many expectations.” Gilbert gently reminds me not to make this journey so much about me. And your timing in sharing this is a reminder that we are not only provided with the creative inspiration, but also the encouragement and perspective we need to stay on the path.

    Please keep dancing Colleen–you have a unique and much-needed perspective!

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